PH 'not back to square one,' says Malacañang as cases surge on lockdown anniversary

Malacañang said on Tuesday, March 16, that the Philippines is "not back to square one" in its COVID-19 response efforts, even as cases continued to surge in the country a year into the pandemic.

“We’re not back to square one. We have better facilities, we have more critical bed capacity, we have more ward bed capacities, we have prepared the health care capacity para gamutin ang mas maraming nagkakasakit (to attend to more COVID-19 patients),” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said on Tuesday.

Roque made statement after senators – citing the continued spike in COVID-19 cases – scored the Duterte administration’s mismanagement of the pandemic despite imposing one of the world’s most stringent lockdowns last year, on March 15, 2020.

Roque, who himself tested positive for the illness, also asserted that the Philippines would have been in a worse position had it not been for the efforts of the country’s pandemic task force (Inter-Agency Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases or IATF-EID).

“We could do better and we’re aiming to do better. Pero sa tingin ko po (In my view), we have done the best that we could, given the circumstance,” Roque said.

The Philippines logged 5,414 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, March 15 – its 4th highest daily tally since the pandemic began.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III also warned on Monday that the Philippines could soon breach the record it set on August 10, 2020, when the country tallied 6,725 cases.

Filipinos 'pasaway'?

Roque also stood by his claim that the government’s push to reopen the economy did not trigger the spike in COVID-19 cases in March.

He said this after Duque contradicted him and said the reopening of the economy was a factor in the surge in coronavirus numbers.

“I don’t think it’s the reopening of the economy per se. I think it has something to do more with less compliance to health protocols,” Roque said, claiming to obtain data showing an increase in the number of quarantine violators apprehended. (READ: Frontliners to gov't: Stop blaming people for COVID-19 surge)

Roque’s latest statement however appeared to contradict his remarks the previous day, when he said he did not want to attribute the surge to the inability of Filipinos to observe minimum health standards.

Ang tanong, ito ba ay dahil nagpabaya ang taumbayan? Ako ba'y nagpabaya? Tingin ko'y hindi naman, dahil sumusunod naman tayo sa minimum health protocols (The question is, is this because we got careless? Did I fail to comply? I don’t think so, because we have been observing minimum health protocols),” Roque said in a televised briefing on March 15.

Roque also offered a new explanation to President Rodrigo Duterte’s remarks that the challenges brought about by the pandemic is "a small thing."

Kaya natin itong COVID na ito. Maliit na bagay ito sa ating buhay (We can overcome this COVID-19 crisis. This is a small thing in our lives),” Duterte said on Monday night.

Roque believed that Duterte only expressed optimism that the country will be able to overcome the impacts caused by the ongoing health crisis.

Hindi po minamaliit ng Presidente ang ating paghihirap. Pero ang sinasabi po niya, babangon po tayo diyan, we will heal as one, at malapit na po ang panahon na 'yan (The President is not downplaying our sufferings. What he’s saying is we will rise up from this, and that time is soon),” Roque said. – Rappler.com